GREAT BARRINGTON — A new contender has entered the selectboard race to challenge its two incumbents.
Leigh Davis, a former finance committee member, has tossed her hat into the ring for one of the two seats on the selectboard. The seats are held by board members Daniel Bailly and chairperson Steve Bannon. But before residents cast their ballots at the May 14 town election, they can hear from the candidates during a public forum at 6:30 p.m. on May 1 at the Claire Teague Senior Center. The event will be hosted by the town Democratic and Republican committees.
Leigh Davis: As director of development of Eagle Mill Redevelopment and Mill Renaissance in Lee, Davis says she’d like to bring her experience to Great Barrington.
“I’m engaged on a daily basis with issues surrounding economic development, affordable housing, local, state and national funding, job creation, the restoration of historic properties, environmental conservation, community engagement and town government,” she said. “The towns I currently work in are Lee, Adams, and South Egremont. I’d love to be able to bring the experience and knowledge I have to Great Barrington where my children have been raised and go to school, and where my heart is.”
If elected, Davis hopes to work with the board find creative ways to cut costs through sharing services and grants. She also noted the importance of defining some of the barriers to economic development, particularly in Housatonic.
Some of those barriers, she highlighted include a lack of high-speed internet, natural gas, transportation options and affordable housing, said Davis.
“The Housatonic School, Ramsdell Library, Cook’s Garage — it’s all there … the people have spoken — now we need a selectboard that will listen and carry out the wishes of the residents of Great Barrington,” she said.
Public service was a big part of her life growing up, she said. Davis’ father was an African American civil right activist and fair housing advocate that successfully lobbied Congress to establish the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. Her mother was the assistant to R. Sargent Shriver who led Peace Corps, Job Corps, Headstart and Special Olympics, along with his wife Eunice Kennedy.
Davis moved to town nearly a decade ago after finding herself stranded in a snowstorm on Main Street. Had she not been driving through the community while on vacation, she says she never would have discovered Great Barrington.
A year later, she moved to the town with her three children from Ireland, where she was a tenured professor at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Galway. There, she was a professor of film and video editing, screenwriting and film history. Prior to that, Davis worked as a film and television editor for Hollywood and employed by studios like Paramount, DreamWorks and Universal.
During her first few years in Great Barrington, she started her own errand service business, Errands by Leigh and became certified as a patient volunteer with HospiceCare in the Berkshires. When her children were younger, she volunteered as a member of the Muddy Brook Elementary School Council.
She’s also served as a member on the development committee for the free clinic Volunteers in Medicine, as a marketing consultant for Construct Inc., a consultant of The Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires and on the board of directors of Saint James Place.
The first few years in town, were a bit of a struggle, said Davis.
“I did the ‘Berkshire Shuffle’ like many others here do – trying to keep my head above water and look after my children,” she said.
Davis worked as a marketing director for the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, a columnist for the Berkshire Record as well as The Berkshire Edge, in sales at Barnbrook Realty, editor of the Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative and a marketing director to The Berkshire Eagle.
Steve Bannon:Bannon has been a member of the selectboard for nine years and served as the board’s chair for the last year. He decided to run for the post in 2010 for the same reason he’s running this year: he wanted to do more to help the town.
“I enjoy what I’m doing and there’s still some unfinished business to attend to,” he said, adding that despite there always being unfinished business, he wanted to continue assisting the town through it.
Similar to Davis, he identified the town as struggling with economic development and namely, affordable and workforce housing. The solution, he says, will have to be achieved over time through public and private partnerships as well as developers. It’s important to develop an opportunity for people that work in town to be able to afford to live in town, he said.
In addition to the affordable housing issue, Bannon also cited the need to have high-speed internet throughout the entire town.
Though a fiber-optic system is in the works for downtown businesses to have an opportunity to opt into a high-speed service, areas like Housatonic still do not have that option. It’s not ideal and that needs to change, he said.
In addition to the selectboard, Bannon has been a member of the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee since 1997 and has served as its chairperson since 1999. When he first ran for the post, he still had children in the school district and felt that joining the ranks was the least he could do to help out, he said. He’s remained a member of the committee for so long because he feels it’s good to have a balance of people with children in the district as well as an outside viewpoint, he added, noting what a challenge it can be to find parents willing to commit the time to serve to the regional committee.
Outside of public service, Bannon, a lifetime resident of Great Barrington, works as a pharmacist at Fairview Hospital in Pittsfield. He’s been in the role for nine years. Before that, he worked at his family’s drug store, Bill’s Pharmacy, for 27 years. Bill’s Pharmacy opened in 1968 and was sold to CVS in 2009.
If elected, this will be his fourth three-year term.
Daniel Bailly: A native of Housatonic, Bailly has served two, three-year terms on the selectboard. Prior to the selectboard, he served on the Housatonic School Committee and 250th Anniversary Committee.
“I thought there was a certain voice that wasn’t being heard and I wanted to be the voice for that group,” he said. “And from what people tell me in the grocery stores and streets, I’m still filling that.”
If not re-elected, Bailly said he has concerns that Housatonic may lose representation.
Outside of his involvement with town government, Bailly has been a carpenter for the last 22 years.
Much like the other two candidates, Bailly reiterated the need for economic development and felt that areas like the downtown are seeing a resurgence with projects like 47 Railroad, a mixed retail and housing complex.
Developments like 47 Railroad, he said, provide forward movement toward expanding the tax base.
Bailly is also a member of the Strategic Sustainability and Livability Committee and serves as a selectboard representative to the Regional Agreement Amendment Committee as well as for Next Step, a subcommittee of the school committee for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.
Bailly also noted that selectboard members have been divided to serve as liaisons to the different boards and commissions in town. He serves as the liaison to the town’s department of public works as well as the historical commission.
Though he and fellow members of the board don’t always agree, Bailly said, in the end, the board has come to some sort of conclusion with the town’s best interest in mind.
“Whoever sits at the table, we all have to work together to help the town,” he said. “And I’m not done just yet.”
In addition to the selectboard, the town election also includes contests for the housing authority and finance committee.
For the five-year seat on the housing authority, incumbent Karen Smith is seeking re-election and will face resident Eileen Mooney.
On the finance committee, there are three candidates vying for the two, three-year seats. The committee’s chairman, Thomas Blauvelt, is seeking re-election, whilst fellow board member Janet Lee has decided to step down.
Also on the ballot is former finance committee member Walter F. “Buddy” Atwood III and resident Meredith O’Connor.
The last day to register to vote is Tuesday, April 16.
The town election will be held on Tuesday, May 14 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.